7 Ways to Move Forward and Be Happy, Even If You Have a Painful Past
Does your mind suddenly jump back to a painful point in your life?
Out of nowhere, you have a flashback to a crossroads moment. You think back to that point when you had a decision to make. Do you go or do you stay? Do you pick this option or that option?
You feel stuck, unsure of where to go next. Perhaps you’re dissatisfied with where you are now. And so, you look back at the past and start to wonder. You start to think, “If I had only done that, then I could have…”. You wonder if things could have turned out better, had you chosen differently.
If this is you, stop.
Look, regrets are painful. And as time passes, they accumulate and pile up into an ugly mess that’s hard to get rid of. It seems like no matter what you do, you can’t escape from the past.
How then, do we get deal with them? Here are 7 ways:
1. Happiness is largely a choice.
Research has found that 50 percent of happiness comes from our genes, while 40 percent comes from our daily thoughts and actions. That leaves only 10 percent from our actual life circumstances.
If you’re reading this, you probably have the basic necessities of life: shelter, food, and sleep. Maybe you have a loving spouse, kids, parents, siblings, or friends.
Having more doesn’t mean you’ll be happier. There will always be someone with more of what you want, and that person isn’t necessarily happy.
Instead of ruminating about how this or that could be better, practice thankfulness. Remember to be grateful for what you have as you travel your own journey.
2. Hindsight is 20/20.
You act only based on all the information you have at the time. But sometimes, circumstances change so that when you look back, it seems like you should have made a different decision.
But the thing is, how would you have known?
Stop being so hard on yourself. Based on your current situation at the time, you picked the best choice amongst others. Even today, you don’t know what the future holds in store and you’ll likely make choices depending on what your situation is like right now.
3. Embrace the present.
People like to time travel in their heads. When we were kids, we would wish that we were grown-ups already. And when we become adults? Well, you know the answer.
Time travel happens all throughout our lives. When people are bored at work, they think about sitting at home watching TV. When they watch TV at home, they worry about work.
We end up wishing we had savored more of our time as it was.
So instead, we should focus our time on being, rather than wishing. Take a moment right now, and enjoy the moment you are in.
4. Saying “yes” to one thing means saying “no” to others.
We want everything — it’s human nature. We want money, recognition, fun, and good relationships. The problem is that there’s only so much time in the day and sacrifices are made.
If you look back and think that you should have had more fun, that’s probably because you said “no” to fun and “yes” to money. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Think about what would happen if you had chosen to have more fun and worked less. Would you then say, “I wish I had more money”?
5. People have different priorities at different stages of life.
At one period in your life, you might focus on building a career. Then, your priority shifts to spending time with family.
Wanting your past self to have spent time doing something else means placing your present set of values on your former self, which doesn’t make sense.
Our values evolve as we age. Even now, you might be spending time on a goal that your future self would think differently about. That’s okay.
What’s important is that your values in that time align with the activities that you’re pursuing.
6. Things could have turned out much, much worse.
I spoke to someone who had turned down an offer for a prestigious program to attend a different university. He lamented, “I wish I had gone there instead.”
But, how does he know what he really wished for? The fact is that he doesn’t.
Things could have taken a turn for the worse. He could have had worse experiences had he chosen differently. It’s impossible to realistically know what our alternative realities are, for better or worse. So, we have to make do with what’s in front of us and act based on what we know.
7. Many events are outside of your control.
It’s sad to hear about people who go through traumatic incidents and later on blame themselves for something that wasn’t their fault. Maybe someone couldn’t rescue a loved one, or lost an opportunity for personal growth.
Often, people blame themselves when they look back at what they lost. At the same time, they remove from their memories the fact that they really didn’t have a choice at the time.
Don’t tear yourself up. Why not recognize that you did what you thought was right at the time?
Turn Regrets into Opportunities
Regrets are a byproduct of living, experiencing, and going through the ups and downs of life. No matter your decision, there are always going to be other options that you subsequently turned down.
Instead of letting those feelings of regret weigh you down, use them to your advantage. Reflect on why you feel remorse over something you did or didn’t do. Is there a way you can take those experiences and turn them into lessons for the future?
Looking into your past and re-experiencing those emotions leads to stagnation. But using the past as a guide on how to make better decisions in the future? Now that’s an opportunity for growth.
Melissa Chu writes about creating great work and successful habits at JumpstartYourDreamLife.com. You can grab the guide How to Get Anything You Want.